The Soul That Sinneth, It Shall Die
Ezek 18 is about personal accountability to God. Ezek 18:4 says, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”. In other words, each man in Israel was judged on the merits of his own righteousness or his own wickedness. He would not die for his father’s wickedness. Nor would he live for his father’s righteousness.
The Proverb of Sour Grapes
They had a proverb in Israel that was contrary to this truth. It implied that the children were reaping what their fathers had sown. The proverb was, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. The expression “set your teeth on edge” describes the irritating feeling in your mouth that causes your teeth to tingle when you eat something sour. In the proverb, the fathers eat the sour grapes and the children feel the irritation.
Of course, you won’t feel the irritation in your mouth if someone else eats a sour grape. Nevertheless, the proverb was commonly used in Israel to explain why they were suffering under the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. They said that the children were reaping for the iniquity their fathers had sown. In other words, their fathers were to blame. This sounds a lot like the victim mentality that is so pervasive today. People excuse their sin by blaming their parents.
Jeremiah quoted this proverb in Jer 31:29-30. In this passage, Jeremiah said that the man who eats the sour grape will set his own teeth on edge. In other words, each man was going to reap what he sows. Thus, Ezekiel wrote, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”.
A Father, Son, and Grandson
In Ezek 18, Ezekiel wrote about three different men. In verses 5-9 he described the righteousness of a father and concluded that he shall surely live. Then, in verses 10-13 he described the iniquity of the father’s son and concluded that he shall surely die. Then in verses 14-18 he described the righteousness of the father’s grandson and concluded that he shall surely live. He shall not die for the iniquity of his father. And likewise, his father shall not live for the righteousness of his grandfather. Of course, these conclusions make perfect sense to us.
However, in Ezek 18:19, the men of Israel asked, “Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father”? They were referring to Ex 20:5, where God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation. Note: Ex 20:5 deals specifically with the sin of idolatry. The reason they questioned God is that they believed the judgment of God against them was for the iniquity of their fathers. They didn’t hold themselves responsible for the Chaldeans’ attack on Jerusalem.
Each Man Is Accountable
In Ezek 18:19-20 God replied to their question by referring them to Deut 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin”. Therefore, the soul that sinneth, it shall die. Each man lives by his own righteousness or dies by his own wickedness. He couldn’t claim his father’s righteousness for his righteousness. And he couldn’t blame his father’s wickedness for his wickedness. And thus he couldn’t blame his father for his punishment.
Then in Ezek 18:21-24 the Lord demonstrates his great mercy and judgment. His great mercy allows a wicked man to live who turns from his wickedness and does that which is lawful and right. This man’s transgressions will not be not mentioned; in his righteousness he shall live. Conversely, his judgment requires a righteous man to die who turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity. This man’s righteousness will not be mentioned; in his sin he shall die.
Yet, in Ezek 18:25-29, the men of Israel balked at this. They said, “The way of the Lord is not equal”. They were accusing the Lord of not being just and fair. In truth they were trying to excuse their own wickedness and the Lord wouldn’t let them get away with it. Wicked men had to turn away from their wickedness and do that which was lawful and right to surely live and not die. And righteous men had to keep doing right to keep from dying in their iniquity. This the men did not want to do. They wanted to commit iniquity and blame their judgment on their fathers.
Wicked Men Must Repent
Ezekiel concluded this prophecy in Ezek 18:30-32. Ultimately, the Lord was trying to get them to repent. He said, “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin”. The reason is that the Lord has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.
One final note. In v.31, the reference to a new heart and a new spirit has a future application to the second coming of Christ. You can definitely see the connection to the second advent when Jeremiah quoted this proverb. In the context, you find the new covenant which will be fulfilled when Jesus returns, Jer 31:31-34. This is the time when Israel will have a new heart and spirit, Ezek 11:19-20.
The Soul That Sinneth, It Shall Die
Is it any wonder then that the victim mentality which influenced Israel before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem is the same mentality that affects us today. We are close to the return of Jesus. And people today are excusing their sin by blaming their fathers just like Israel did in Ezek 18. God’s not going to let you get away with this anymore than he let Israel get away with it. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. Therefore, repent of your wickedness and walk in righteousness.